No tax relief forthcoming immediately for Lunenburg Opera House

by Keith Corcoran And Charles Mandel

  • <p>File photo</p><p>The Lunenburg Opera House.</p>

It's expected the society behind a popular music festival will make another attempt at requesting tax relief for the Lunenburg Opera House after the initial try fell victim, Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey said, to "budget fatigue."

The request from the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society, a registered charity, for a full property tax exemption came as the town was struggling to pass its 2019-20 tax rates. The town's finance director estimated a change in the commercial tax rate would be necessary to offset such an exemption. Council defeated a motion that would have jump-started a staff report and options for consideration in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The opera house has a 2019/20 commercial evaluation of $513,800, translating to $17,300 in commercial property tax or $10,300 residential. The society bought the opera house and intend to offer it as a rental facility to non-profits at a reduced rate, in addition to staging shows.

Bailey said the society's request was more or less bad timing and of no fault of the society. She said there wasn't an immediate appetite to study it right away and the compromise of a staff report was deep-six'ed, likely due to "budget fatigue." It took about five regular council meetings before the final tax rates for 2019-20 were passed.

In the meantime, a GoFundMe appeal to make up the short-fall of the purchase price of the opera house is languishing. To date, the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society has raised less than $5,000 of the $330,000 it needs to preserve the building over the long-term.

The society notes on the GoFundMe site that while the $433,800 grant from the Fordi Family Foundation provided about 60 per cent of the building's purchase price, the "remaining balance of $300,000 plus interest presents a significant liability and is a real threat to the Folk Harbour Society."

The society says that should it succeed its minimum target any excess funds would go toward building improvements. Their five-year business plan calls for adding washrooms, expanding the off-stage area, and restoring the third floor.

The society and the Fordi Foundation have the the opera house from ending up in the hands of commercial owners, according to the society, "at least in the short term. To preserve it for generations to come, we must cover the full purchase cost."

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